July 29, 2005 | 5:18 p.m. EDT

Honesty from space (Jay Blackman, NBC News producer)

On the several occasions I've had to interact with the Discovery astronauts, I was surprised by just how candid they were about NASA, the shuttle program and even the loss of Columbia. They were all confident about the shuttle program, but some were critical about NASA's culture, and frankly disappointed that more was not said about the suspicion that Columbia may have taken a fatal blow 81 seconds into her flight on Jan. 16, 2003.

So it came as no surprise just after 0600 this morning when Shuttle Commander Eileen Collins, in a media interview live from space, said that she was dissapointed. (I am still amaze they can get a liveshot from space and my cable TV doesn't come in clearly.) Her reaction: "When we heard about the large piece of foam, frankly, the first thing I'd say is we were very surprised. Because personally I didn't expect any large pieces of foam to fall off the external tank. We thought we had that  problem licked." Australian-born Andy Thomas echoed with a similar response of disappointment and even said he thought it was sad that they will have to slow the pace of shuttle flights.

Both were very honest about their surprise and dismay regarding the tank problems, but they were also very confident of the safety of their return, which will now probably happen a day later than scheduled (Aug. 8), so the shuttle can basically be stripped of anything that will keep the space station running while the shuttle is temporarily grounded, like extra light bulbs. 

Commander Collins told the media the extra day in orbit won't bother her. "I love being in space," she said. "I think it's magical up here. I love floating in zero gravity and looking aback at Earth and I really love doing the mission, it gives us a great sense of accomplishment."

Depending on who you believe, it may be as much as year before another astronaut has the same experience.

Editor's note: Jay is in Houston with NBC News Correspondent Tom Costello, who will report the very latest tonight from Mission Control.

July 29, 2005 | 4:45 p.m.

So much for slow news days

Anchor & Managing Editor

So much for the theory that Fridays during the summer are slow news days. Tonight's lead story is not by any means a slam-dunk: the lightning-fast arrest (complete with thoroughly arresting pictures) of apparently all four suspects in the attempted London bombings, vs. the second most powerful elected GOP official in Washington (a Senate majority leader of the same party) breaking with the President over an issue of science, social policy and intense public interest. We'll have all fronts covered regardless of the starting order tonight. We will cover both in equal detail.

We'll take a further look at the shuttle program (here's a hint about Tim Russert's guests this Sunday on Meet the Press... not all of them will be on earth for the interview). And we have a terrific piece to finish our week-long series of reports on "The Home Front." Wishing you all a good weekend... hope you'll join us tonight.

July 29, 2005 | 11:13 a.m. EDT

Stay cool, ICE is legit (Rob Merrill, Daily Nightly editor)

Quite a few of you e-mailed us about Dawn Fratangelo's report last night regarding how to use your cell phone to help emergency providers in case of an emergency.  Her story told you how a paramedic in Britain came up with the idea to rename an emergency contact in your cell phone address book as "ICE," short for "In Case of Emergency. " The idea is catching on in the U.S., led by a police chief in Connecticut. But as is increasingly the case in this wired world, scam artists and hackers are taking advantage of the idea, circulating an e-mail that says if you program ICE into your cell phone, you are somehow vulnerable to a virus that will bill you for phone calls you didn't make. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Anti-virus software company McAfee exposes the hoax here, as does a British Web site called ParamedicUK.

July 29, 2005 | 9:13 a.m. EDT

Tonight on Nightly News (Rob Merrill, Daily Nightly editor)

Our series "The Homefront" travels to a summer camp created for military children. With moms and dads fighting overseas, some kids face their own battle against fear and loneliness. Find out how they're finding comfort around the campfire.

July 28, 2005| 4:45 p.m. EDT

Tough questions about the Shuttle (Brian Williams)

Tonight's broadcast, echoing similar conversations throughout this country today, will ask some tough but fair questions about the Shuttle program.  Last night's NASA briefing, which was still going on when we took to the air in New York, raised some concerns that continue to dominate the news cycle today.  We will offer special coverage tonight from the huge annex to the Air & Space Museum near Dulles Airport in Chantilly, Va.... the space shuttle test vehicle Enterprise serving as our backdrop.

We'll also take a look at the progress the Energy Bill is making.  Summer attention spans being what they are, there's a good chance major provisions will be signed into law before many Americans realize what the measure does and does not do.  I know there is keen interest in the bill (in the House currently) especially among many folks in the West.  Chip Reid will report for us from the Hill.  A second topic of concern in that region and elsewhere: this season's drought... Kevin Tibbles will tell us where it's the worst, and preview the ultimate cost.

Speaking of our coverage of current issues, a tough and thought-provoking New York Times op-ed by Paul Sperry generated a lot of talk today on the dicey issue of profiling that was the subject of one of our segments recently .

We'll have another part of our series THE HOMEFRONT tonight — in our effort to keep the attention on those who deserve it each day: those serving overseas, and those serving here.  The challenges faced by each are formidable.  We hope you'll join us.

July 28, 2005 | 7:07 a.m. EDT

Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News (Rob Merrill, Daily Nightly editor)

Our special series "The Homefront" continues with a look at a Louisiana town that became an Afghan village, to help soldiers prepare for the realities of war.

July 27, 2005| 4:30 p.m. EDT

Troop reductions in Iraq (Brian Williams)

When I first heard General Casey's comments from Iraq about "substantial reductions" of U.S. troops in Iraq (with caveats, but by next summer) I thought of the military families I have come to know... and the expectations-management roller coaster they've been on since the start of the war in Iraq. Tonight we'll look at the General's comments in the context of the war and vis-a-vis the past practices of the administration.

We'll update the shuttle mission... specifically the painstaking search for damage upon liftoff. And we couldn't help but notice the photo, on TV Newser via Gawker, of our colleague over at CNN, Miles O'Brien... justifiably proud of what may be the largest of the lap-based rocket models we've seen so far during the coverage of the shuttle mission.  I noticed what I thought was a hint of model-envy on the part of a few of my NBC colleagues today.

Elsewhere in the broadcast tonight, we have a stunning story on on-line porn. Put it this way: a larger business than the big 3 networks, and then some. What we have to report tonight, especially the average age of first contact with porn on the net, may surprise some parents who may be thinking "not my kid, and certainly not in my house."

The weather here in New York continues to fascinate (how DID they manage to move all that air here from the Phillipines?) and since an enormous weather front now cuts the United States virtually in two (about as impressive a front as you'll ever see, and a violent one at that) it probably warrants a word or two in the broadcast tonight... as it will be booming in the background while Nightly News is airing in a number of East Coast states.

Finally tonight, we'll look at a great group of Marine Mothers... who are keeping in touch with others as their kids fight overseas. The kind of story we can't cover often enough. We hope you'll join us tonight.

July 27, 2005 | 7:30 a.m. EDT

Tonight on Nightly News (Rob Merrill, Daily Nightly editor)

Millions take echinacea at the first sign of a common cold. But does it really work? The biggest medical study yet answers that question.

Also, Band of Mothers — while their Marine Corps sons fight in Iraq, how do they stay strong when the going gets tough? Our series "The Homefront" concludes. Click here for a link to MarineParents.com, the group Mike Taibbi will report about tonight.

July 26, 2005 | 4:43 p.m. EDT

‘Return to Flight’ (Brian Williams)

It's almost too hot to post here in New York. It has, however, already been a big day around here: starting with our live coverage of what we used to call the "space shot" this morning (say what you will about the space program, its funding, mandate and modern-day mission... it's still a chest-thumper when a mission like this one clears the tower), followed by this afternoon's visit by the "voice of NASCAR" on NBC, Bill Weber. Bill came by to say hello and talk racing, and I hope he was impressed by the used Goodyear racing tire against the wall in the central hallway of the Nightly newsroom... which I regret to say reflects the interior design taste of yours truly.

In the news: today's successful launch and the symbolism of America's return to space. I should also add what an honor it was sharing our news set earlier with Capt. Rick Hauck... the only man alive who knows how it feels to pilot the first shuttle mission after a major disaster. Rick, now retired, piloted Discovery in Sept./Oct. 1988, after the Challenger explosion in Jan. 1986. He flew carrier-based air missions over Vietnam, is a veteran of three shuttle flights and has logged more than 400 hours in space. He has the demeanor I've come to expect of test pilots and astronauts: not a lot flusters him. Turns out he's superb at live special-events coverage.

We will update the London bombing investigation, the political mess in San Diego (would ANYONE like to be mayor of a beautiful metropolitan area, ocean view?) and we will continue our series this week called "The Homefront," with a report tonight on the alarmingly high divorce rate in the military. Why are divorces among officers up 78 percent?

We hope you can join us for tonight's effort.

July 26, 2005 | 3:16 p.m. EDT

Questioning subway searches (Rob Merrill, Daily Nightly editor)

If you missed last night's reporting from Dawn Fratangelo on the concerns about profiling subway commuters in NYC, you can watch the video here . Pete Williams followed-up on Dawn's reporting today, filing this piece for MSNBC.com on the constitutionality of subway searches . Do they violate the 4th Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures?"

July 26, 2005 | 1:08 p.m.  EDT

Always an awesome sight (Jay Blackman, NBC News producer)

Everyone on the roof of NBC's building craned their necks to see the launch of space shuttle Discovery at 10:39 a.m. EDT. When people say they see a launch, it's more than just seeing it with your eyes, it takes over all of your senses.

First, you see the bright orange glow of the booster rockets, combined with the voice of the launch control commentator: "Liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery, beginning America's new journey to the moon, Mars and beyond." Next comes the sound of the shuttle's engines, little pops and then loud bangs... finally, you feel it... the platform shakes, below your feet, you literally can feel your body shaking... the shaking is so powerful it sets off car alarms in the parking lot. Among the car alarms, you hear people cheering, relieved that the shuttle has lifted off.

For me, watching the launch gave me goose bumps. I had to kneel down to see the the launch after it rose above the the pad. After it went away from my view, I turned to watch the coverage on NASA-TV with everyone else who was on the roof. We all watched closely until the shuttle's fuel tank separated from Discovery and fell away. At that point, astronaut Pam Melroy, a veteran of two missions, who was a guest on the "Today" show, was visibly choked up. She said it was an emotional moment for her and for everyone at NASA, more than two years after the Columbia disaster.

A lot of work remains ahead for the crew — new maneuvers, techniques, equipment to test... and questions to answer about whether or not any debris fell off Discovery's tanks and and hit the shuttle, potentially dooming it to the same fate as Columbia. As NASA said in their briefing today, we'll know more when we look at the images. Sunday is a critical day, as NASA possibly makes the decision about whether or not Discovery will be able to return to the landing strip here at Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 7.

Editor's note: We'll have complete team coverage of the launch on tonight's broadcast. Tom Costello is with Jay in Florida and Martin Savidge reports on how the families of victims of the Columbia disaster are coping with NASA's "Return to Flight."

July 26, 2005 | 9:55 a.m. EDT

Anticipation at Cape Canaveral (Jay Blackman, NBC News producer)

There is a noticeable buzz of activity here at the Kennedy Space Center. The astronauts were up bright and early to get ready for their mission to return Space Shuttle Discovery to space. The media was up early too, everyone had to be at the press site no later than 6:30 a.m. There are certainly a lot of media here, more than 20 satellite trucks with dishes pointed toward the sky, reporters rushing to and from their live shots and others sitting on the floor at the press center because there just aren't any more seats left.

Weather, a concern early this week, is nearly perfect with an 80 percent chance of launch. The sunrise, viewed from the roof of our NBC workspace, location glowed red and orange around 6:40 a.m. EDT. About 10 minutes later, the astronauts, huge smiles on their faces, walked out of their quarters to board the "astro-van" for their 20 minute ride to the launch pad.

After arriving at the pad, one by one, they boarded the shuttle, getting strapped in with assistance from members of the launch team. They will lay on their backs for more than two hours waiting for launch, all the while doing communication checks and last-minute studying of their flight plan books, strapped to their legs. One can imagination the anticipation they are feeling this close to launch, after training together for years and being disappointed nearly two weeks ago when the shuttle launch was scrubbed because of a fuel sensor issue.

So far so good, all the fuel sensor tests have been clear. You could feel the excitement in an e-mail from NASA public relations specialist Mike Rein when he said the first early morning sensor test was run and came back normal. One of the launch commentators just said it has been a remarkably quiet countdown, the only issue being a problem with the rubber seal on astronaut Steve Robinson's helmets.

Hopefully, that will be the only issue, with less than an hour to go, as Space Shuttle Discovery sits on the Launch pad, sun glistening off its white body, waiting for its 10:39 a.m. EDT launch.

July 25, 2005 | 3:53 p.m. EDT

Tonight on Nightly News (Brian Williams)

The following news stories are all you need to know about the times we're living in: there's a bill in the New Jersey Statehouse to outlaw smoking while driving , and people living in Florida are expecting several spectacular sunsets this week, owing to the amount of sand in the atmosphere from a sandstorm that originated in the Sahara and has been carried across the Atlantic.

Here in New York, most of the media are paying very close attention to the new inspection procedures for bags and packages on board public transit. One New York late Sunday evening newscast showed private security screeners confiscating a Swiss Army knife from an Australian female tourist, who is backpacking across the United States. She was boarding a GREYHOUND BUS. As she put it, "I didn't know it wasn't allowed." Nor did anyone else, apparently.

It may take us a while to figure out these times we're living in. As for tonight, we'll likely begin our broadcast with what's happening to what we routinely call "Big Labor. " While it's still big, it's changing.

Also tonight, we'll have updates on both the London and Egypt bombing investigations, the summer of our discontent (is there anyone or anything to blame for this weather we're having?) and how it's possible to read bedtime stories to your children... if you're in Iraq and they're in the United States. We hope you can join us.

July 25, 2005 | 11:25 a.m. EDT

Waiting again at Cape Canaveral (Jeff Gralnick)

So here we sit — again — 3.5 miles from Pad 39A the day before the day — again — and according to NASA, everything is looked good for launch — again.

The sensor problem that scrubbed Discovery on July 13 is not solved and not fully understood according to the mission management team, but understood enough to let them go forward. And from that management team this morning one more great phrase in engineering speak. In answer to another "what happens if?" question, one of the project people told us this morning that it will be "situationally dependent." Another nice way of saying "it all depends."

Meantime, in the motel coffee shop this morning I ran into the human face of the sensor problem. After the obligatory "down here for the launch?" chat, it turns out this guy was a member of one of the trouble shooting teams. He got here on the July 15 and heads back for Houston Mission Control today.

"It's raw meat for an engineer, this kind of problem, but how do you troubleshoot something you can't make happen again and can't find?" he told me.

Frustrated?

"You bet, but we've done everything we can think of, and since we can't do anymore until they chill the tank down and really duplicate what happened on the 13th, I am heading back."

First order of business when he gets back to Houston?

"Kiss the wife and then head for my seat in MCC."

He's one more of the huge NASA team who will be operating for the next 20 hours or so with his fingers crossed. Not very scientific, but as the deputy mission manager told us yesterday, "Hey, it's rocket science."

So that's this mini-report for The Daily Nightly. Now back to the running countdown blog you can find at Blogs, Etc. on this very site.

Editor's note: Jeff is a 47-year veteran in broadcast news currently serving as Special Consultant to NBC News for Internet and New Technology matters .

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